WEST PALM BEACH
So what's a Las Vegas casino mogul doing in the middle of Florida's medical marijuana debate?
Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Las Vegas Sands, donated $2.5 million this month to the Drug Free Florida Committee, which was formed to oppose the legalization of medicinal marijuana in Florida, an issue state voters will decide in November by referendum.
Adelson doesn't live in Florida, and he is a huge supporter of research that supports using marijuana to treat debilitating diseases.
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He and his wife, Miriam, are the principal benefactors of the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at Tel Aviv University.
"Marijuana has long been known to relieve pain and nausea, but the medical benefits may in fact be much more significant," the center reported. "Researchers at the Adelson Center are finding major medical properties in marijuana that could affect the way neurodegenerative diseases and brain injuries are treated."
So you would think if Adelson was going to throw his money around in Florida on the marijuana issue, it would be to support medicinal legalization, not fight it.
Unless you consider that Adelson's money has nothing to do with marijuana.
Adelson's primary interest in Florida is as a locale for his casinos.
Gov. Rick Scott has been in negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which wants to renew its contract to run the only Las-Vegas style casinos permitted in Florida. Part of the current deal the tribe has with Florida expires next year.
Meanwhile, Adelson and another casino operation, the Genting Group, have been lobbying hard and donating heavily to the political campaigns of Florida's leaders in an effort to get them to rewrite the gambling laws in the state to permit a few casinos in South Florida. Genting, a Malaysian company, has plans to build the world's largest casino in Miami.
But the casino interests have a strong opponent in the Walt Disney Co., which sees the expansion of gambling in Florida as a threat to its theme-park business. So Disney has been lobbying and donating in opposition to the expansion of casino gambling.
This clash of deep-pocket titans has put the Florida Legislature in a state of paralysis. Rather than take a side, lawmakers decided last session to wait and see what sort of agreement Scott and the Seminoles will make.
So Adelson's $2.5 million gesture against medicinal marijuana in Florida is really just another down payment on his casino plans and a way to keep Scott's ear.
Scott really needs help on the marijuana issue. It's on the ballot due to one man, John Morgan, the Central Florida personal injury attorney and political godfather of Charlie Crist, who is Scott's likely opponent in this year's gubernatorial election.
Morgan spent millions of dollars of his own money to get the marijuana issue on the ballot, an issue that is bound to chum some casual voters into showing up in November to vote for it, and for its supporter, Crist.
Scott would have been better off to embrace medicinal marijuana, rather than to provide Crist such an easy issue. Polls have shown that Floridians are overwhelmingly in favor of medicinal marijuana.
It's one of those social issues -- like gay marriage and immigration reform -- that slow-to-evolve Republicans resist at their peril.
The Republican-led Legislature tried to deflect the medicinal marijuana issue this spring by approving a low-euphoric form of marijuana known as Charlotte's Web to treat some children with epilepsy. Scott said he would support that.
"I'm a parent and a grandparent," Scott said. "I want to make sure my children, my grandchildren have access to the health care they want."
But instead of evolving on the amendment, like Scott did on in-state college tuition for the children of immigrants here illegally, he has clung to opposing it. And so now his political supporters have decided to launch an uphill campaign to convince Floridians that medical marijuana is a bad idea. Adelson's donation is the lion's share of that effort.
So if you're keeping score at home, the most influential voices on the issue of medical marijuana in Florida are two people with ulterior motives: an Orlando personal injury lawyer playing a game of political chess, and an out-of-state casino billionaire looking for the opportunity to fleece Florida gamblers.
Frank Cerabino, writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.